Joseph seems to have been a naturally kind and caring man, well-suited to Mary. Like her, he did not fly off the handle when he found things out. He was thoughtful, considering the best way to handle the situation. In his day, a woman could receive lifelong shame for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. He desired to "put her away" as quietly as possible without bringing any further shame upon Mary - or himself, for that matter. While he was still mulling it over, an angel, probably Gabriel again, appeared to him in a dream.
Throughout this episode, Joseph is shown to be a humble, pious, obedient man. He takes what the angel says without complaint or even reply. Once he is aroused from sleep, Joseph does just as the angel commands him. The angel's word was enough. The man was convinced. He would comply.
Gabriel tells Joseph almost the same things he said to Mary. It is somewhat odd, though, since it was through Joseph that Jesus would physically claim David's throne, that the angel does not mention that Jesus would be King. This is also interesting because, throughout his Gospel, Matthew constantly mentions Jesus' royal nature. Instead, Gabriel tells Joseph that Mary's Son, whom everyone would think is his Son, would be named Jesus, "for He will save His people from their sins." He also reiterates that He will be God with us and that He was conceived of the Holy Spirit.
These points hint that Joseph was more interested in spiritual matters than physical ones. Perhaps he had not allowed his Davidic lineage to go to his head. He did not need the spur of his adoptive Son becoming King to make him comply. All he needed to know was that God through the Holy Spirit had accomplished Mary's pregnancy, and that the divine Child, in fulfillment of prophecy, would one day save His people from sin.
In His sovereignty, God prepared the perfect couple to raise His Son. They are wonderful examples of submission to God. Even though His intervention in their lives threw a huge monkey wrench into their personal plans, they selflessly said, "So be it, Lord. What would You like us to do next?"
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Birth of Jesus Christ (Part One): Annunciation
Matthew's account is plain and straightforward, as if he were laying out the facts in a court case, and in a way, he is building a case for the reader—particularly the Jewish reader—to accept Jesus as the Messiah. He takes great pains to present the facts that will show that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 to the letter. What is more, this is an event in which Jesus Himself is passive, having no active part in the fulfillment of the prophecy. This, of course, increases the improbability of its achievement by human manipulation.
Matthew mentions Mary's virginity several times. In Matthew 1:18, he writes, "After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit." In verse 20, the angel verifies this fact by repeating that her conception occurred via supernatural means: "for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." Verse 23 quotes Isaiah 7:14, "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel." Finally, in verse 25, Matthew reports that Joseph "did not know her [a euphemism for sexual intercourse] till she had brought forth her firstborn Son." In just eight verses, the apostle makes four either explicit or implicit references to Mary's virginity, not only at the time of conception, but also throughout her pregnancy and for some time beyond.
In Matthew, this passage does not stand alone; it is only one of several scenes, along with His genealogy, in the first two chapters that together provide overwhelming proof that Jesus fulfilled many of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament before He was old enough to have a hand in orchestrating their fulfillments. The virgin birth, however, comes first as the most astounding of them all.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Behold, A Virgin Shall Conceive . . .'
An anonymous quotation that made the rounds of the Internet last year runs, "Christmas is weird. What other time of year do you sit in front of a dead tree and eat candy out of your socks?" Though it may induce a chuckle from its readers, most people either miss or ignore the larger point: Christmas is a bundle of contradictions, inanities, and outright lies.
The astounding fact is that most people are aware of this. On a Christmas Eve radio show, a local preacher substituted for the regular host. His topic of discussion centered on the greeting "Merry Christmas!" and he asked if, in our multicultural, multi-religious society, this was offensive. One caller said, no, Christianity was still the majority religion in America, but what really troubled her was the fact that professing Christians promoted the traditional lie that Jesus was born on December 25.
Without missing a beat, the preacher/talk-show host then explained to the audience that his caller was correct, Jesus could not have been born around the winter solstice, and that, in the early fourth century, the Catholic Church had combined the Roman winter solstice festival, the Saturnalia, with a celebration of Jesus' birth to help new converts adjust to Christianity. He treated these facts as common knowledge.
His "resolution" to the conundrum, however, was revealing. The gist of his answer to the troubled caller was, "If Christians would live according to the teachings of Jesus, these contradictions would not matter." I had to shake my head. Neither the host nor the caller could see the self-contradictory nature of his answer. Did not Jesus teach that we are to be honest? Certainly, He did!
He tells the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-18 that, to have eternal life, he should not bear false witness, which is the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16). In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37). We could say, then, that keeping a celebration to Christ on a day that is not His birthday—with customs and traditions that derive from paganism—is from the evil one. It is a lie, and the Devil is the father of it (John 8:44).
This is what makes the oft-heard phrase, "Let's put Christ back into Christmas!" so laughable. It is another self-contradictory statement. How can we put Christ back into something in which He never was in the first place? Search the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and no command—not even a suggestion—to commemorate the Savior's birth will be found. It is amazing to consider that professing Christians around the world keep days and festivals never once enjoined on them in God's Word (Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Halloween, Christmas), yet the ones God tells them to keep (the Sabbath, Passover, God's holy days), they ignore!
What about the real central character of Christmas, Santa Claus? Today's jolly old elf—a roly-poly old man in a red suit trimmed in white; big, black boots; spectacles; long, white beard; and a "ho-ho-ho"—was the brainchild of Coca-Cola's marketing department early in the last century. He was based loosely on the English Father Christmas and the German Kris Kringle. This figure, in turn, has blended with the early "Christian" Saint Nicholas, a churchman who was known for spreading the wealth to needy members of his community, sometimes throwing sacks of coins through open windows and down chimneys. Where is the biblical basis for such a character? He may be present in the modern crèche, but no one like him appears in the gospel narratives of Jesus' birth.
Then there is the season's alternate name, Yule. Where does that come from? Check the origin in the dictionary: "a pagan midwinter festival." Another contradiction! The preacher/talk-show host made mention of this point too, chuckling about how so many people do not realize that their Yule log hearkens back to the heathen practice of driving away evil spirits with bonfires on the night of the winter solstice! Now, however, it is just another way to stir up Christmas cheer! No harm in that, right?
If these pagan, unbiblical elements are so commonly known, why does the Christmas tradition continue? Three reasons come to the fore:
» Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:7)
» The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
» The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. (Jeremiah 5:31)
Christmas continues because human nature deceives itself into practicing things that are not right because they are enjoyable. Human nature allows people to justify self-contradictory things because they appear to produce benefits for them. In such a case, truth does not matter; all that matters is that a person receives presents and has a good time. And if a religious significance—real or imagined—can be attached to it, all the better!
We should not expect people to give up Christmas anytime soon just because it has pagan origins. Human nature has a long history of explaining such pesky details away.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Cogitations on Christmas
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 1:25: